SA Itinerary Help

Dec 16th, 2004, 10:09 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 36
SA Itinerary Help

I will be traveling to SA in a couple of months and would appreciate any insight on my intinerary generally as well as on the specific questions below. I am flying into CT where I will spend three days. Then I will drive to and along the Garden Route over the course of about four days, ending in Port Elizabeth. From there, I hop a flight to Durban where I pick up another car, spend a couple of days in the Drakensberg area, one night in or around JB and then three nights in Madikwe. After that I fly out of JNB. I'd love to have more time to do all of this, but such is worklife.

1. Any general thoughts on the above itinerary, in particular any suggestions on things to do and see - bearing in mind the relatively short time I have in each location.

2. I plan to stay at Mount Nelson in CT. Any thoughts? I considered a couple of the waterfront hotels, but have been dissauded by some posts from staying in that area. I think it will be a fun part of town to visit and walk around, but I'd like to stay in a quieter section. I also considered Ellerman House, which looks beautiful, but unfortunately, there is no room at the inn.

2. Due to lack of time, I am unable to stay overnight anywhere between CT and the Garden Route, except possibly in Oudtshoorn or Prince Albert. Is it faster to get to Oudtshoorn/Prince Albert via N1 than N2? The N1 is shorter, but that doesn't always mean faster. If it is faster, would I be missing any must sees along the N2?

3. Because the N1 appears to be a faster route, I plan to take it to Prince Albert. Is the Swartberg Pass as good an experience when traversed from north to south (i.e., Prince Albert to Oudtshoorn) as from south to north (i.e., Oudtshoorn to Prince Albert)? I've seen folks rave about the latter, but have not seen anything on the former.

4. Is there a general consensus on the best two or three places to stay along the Garden Route? I'd like to stay in one nice place and explore the route from there.

5. Right now I plan to fly out of Port Elizabeth to Durban. Does anyone know if I can fly non-stop between Plettenberg and Durban. I don't think so (which is why I'm going to PE), but just thought I'd check.

6. In the Drakensberg area I plan to stay at Cathedral Peak Hotel for a couple nights. The location and setting seem good for hiking right from the hotel. Thoughts?

7. Any recommendations for an overnight in or around JB? I know it is a huge area with so much to see and do, if only I had more time. But unfortunately, on this trip I can make JB only a stopover on my way to Madikwe.

8. Finally, search as I have, I still have not come across much on this site about Madikwe. Does anyone have anything new to say about this reserve. I'm planning to stay at Madikwe Hills. Looks great on the website and the price is not as outrageous as some other places. I prefer a non-malarial reserve, which is why I selected Madikwe.

I appreciate any and all insights. Thanks!
mtea is offline  
Dec 16th, 2004, 12:04 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 3,501
Hello Mtea,

Before I comment on your itinerary, let me confess that I like to travel a bit more slowly and see things in a bit more depth. Hence I sometimes find myself at odds with folks who have a faster travelling style.

However, I like to think that almost anyone would consider your draft itinerary too fast.

Much as it pains me to suggest this, because the Drakensberg is very pretty, I think you should axe the Drakensberg here and now. That will give you a couple of days that you can re-allocate to the Garden Route or to the winelands near Cape Town.

While the N1 from Cape Town to Prince Albert is shorter and faster than the N2, the N1 route does have its limitations from a scenic point of view.

There is a low-lying coastal plain all the way round South Africa. At some point as one drives from the coast towards the interior one climbs an escarpment and then one finds oneself on a high plataeu in the interior. (Johannesburg, for example, is about 6,000 feet above sea level.)

Because of the prevailing winds and the warm ocean current on the east and the cold ocean current on the west, the eastern and southern coastal plains are quite lush and green and the west coast is arid. As one moves into the interior from the east and the south, the winds dump their moisture content on the escarpment, and the air is relatively dry by the time it moves across the interior plateau. Hence the interior is dry, all the more so the further west one moves.

The net effect of the above is that, when you are driving the N1 from Cape Town to Prince Albert, you are driving across an arid area that is behind the mountains that separate that area from the lush coastal plain. It is a semi-desert, and it has a stark beauty of its own, of which I am quite fond. However, if it is your first visit to SA, it is kind of a shame to spend your time in the dry Karoo. However, because of your time constraints, you may need to compromise and take the N1 route after all.

I too like staying in one spot and doing day trips in every direction from that spot. Unfortunately the Garden Route is strung out in a long, narrow band along the coast, starting at Mossel Bay (Mosselbaai) in the west and ending at Port Elizabeth in the east. Then there is the scenic detour from George to Oudtshoorn and Prince Albert. These two routes together form a sort of upside down "T." Because of its configuration, the Garden Route does lend itself to moving from one place to the next.

The Swartberg Pass is beautiful regardless of the direction from which it is viewed, so that is not an issue, IMO.

For what the information is worth, there is an airport at George. I do not know if there are direct flights from there to Durban, but there are direct flights from there to Johannesburg. Anyway, given your short time frame, you should not be going to Durban IMO, so I consider the information to be somewhat academic.

Am I correct in thinking that, with your present itinerary, you have 12 days in-country? I think you could re-allocate your time as follows:

4 days - Cape Town (including 1 day trip to the winelands around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek)

1 day - drive from CT to Prince Albert

2 days - Knysna (1 day to drive from PA to Knysna, 1 day to explore Knysna's environs)

2 days - Addo Elephant National Park (1 day to drive from Knysna to Addo, and 1 day to look around Addo)

3 days - Madikwe (1 day to get from PE to Madikwe, and 2 days to look around Madikwe. I do not see why you need to overnight in Johannesburg. I would imagine you could fly from PE to Jo'burg in the morning, and drive to Madikwe in the afternoon. If you must stay in Jo'burg, stay in the Sandton or Rosebank area.)

Here is Selwyn's quintessential itinerary of Cape Town, the winelands, and the Garden Route. I suggest you study it. You will need to abbreviate it. I suggest you do not overnight in the winelands and also not in Hermanus. That is because you do not have as much time in the Cape region as the poster to whom Selwyn was addressing his advice. In order to undertake Selwyn's suggested journey in full you would need to give up Madikwe, which also might be a valid choice.

I hope this is not too confusing. Anyway, if you do nothing else, I do urge you to give up the Drakensberg, not because it is an unworthy destination, but because you have too much on your plate.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Dec 17th, 2004, 04:43 AM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 686
But if you do for whatever reason get to Cathedral, then yes there are lots of opportunities for hiking using the hotel itself as the base. It is right "in" the mountains. Cathedral Peak and adjacent peaks such as the Bell form an offshoot of the main 'berg, but an adjoining one. It is the area of the 'berg I know the best, and probably my favourite.
ArthurSA is offline  
Dec 19th, 2004, 04:15 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,097

I have to agree with all that Judy has advised and want to empasize two very important points that she has made.

Firstly if you cannot get the Durban/Drakensberg visit out of your blood then rather skip flying to Durban from PE and fly from George as this will give you an extra day on the Garden Route. You will unfortunately miss the Addo Park but then I suppose that Madikwe will more than likely suit your safari needs.

Secondly use Knysna as a pivot to explore the Garden Route. It is excellently positioned and has some wonderful places to stay at. If you stay in this wonderful town you will be well positioned to day trips such as vsisting the Stormsriver area and the Wilderness. Considering that you might take the "top road" (N1) you will miss out on the fabulously scenic sector between Knysna and Mossel Bay so by you staying at Knysna in a day trip you will be able to accomplish what you have missed. In my opinion the above is the one sector of the "bottom road" viz. the N2 that I would not miss out on purely for its wonderful scenery.

A last point is that as you are going to truly be so pressurised time wise my advice is that if you can afford it then rather tour in guided format rather than self drive the area. Make no error your experience while self driving will be wonderful as you will attain a lot of joy from self discovery however you also are going to miss quite a lot if you are in a rush trying to do so much of what the Garden Route offers. This will be due to the time wasteage of simply trying to find places and experiences in such a short period of time. Being guided will solve this problem for you.

Just my twopence worth.

Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa
Selwyn_Davidowitz is offline  
Dec 19th, 2004, 06:47 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Nov 2003
Posts: 36
Thanks all three for your input. I realize that I am trying to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time (13 1/2) days. While I would prefer more time along the Garden Route, three days is about the most I can manage given that I definitely want to spend time on a game reserve and I'm interested in doing some hiking in the Drakensberg. For the next trip (whenever that may be), hopefully I'll have more time.

A few follow up questions:

1. Any reason not to stay at Mount Nelson?

2. Could you recommend two or three places in or around Oudtshoorn to stay for the night. In view of Selwyn's strong endorsement of Jemima's, I'm planning to have dinner there.

3. Where in Knysna would you recommend I stay if I'd like a place with great views of the ocean and the ability to walk to town? Most places I've read about are outside of town. Is it not desireable to stay in town? Also, any thoughts on the Plettenberg hotel? I understand the Plettenberg is not as centrally located as Knysna, but they are not that far apart and the Plettenberg hotel looks fabulous.

4. Selwyn, I have considered flying (into Durban) out of George instead of PE. However, the only nonstop (SAA) leaves at 10:50am. Even though George would be closer to wherever I end up staying along the Garden Route, I'd still have to leave my hotel at about the same time regardless of whether I fly out of George or out of PE on the later 1:30pm nonstop (SAA). If the flight from George left later in the day (just a few hours later), I'd be on that flight for the reason you suggested. But I'm not aware of a later nonstop out of George, and it doesn't make sense to waste time with a connecting flight. Given this, my very slight preference is to drive the extra distance to PE, thereby exploring a bit more of that part of the country. There doesn't seem to be a clear cut best option. Do you agree, or am I missing something?

5. Any thoughts on Madikwe? Judy, I was a little troubled by your comment that giving up Madikwe might be a valid choice. Was that comment directed to something negative in particular about Madikwe or were you simply reiterating your feeling about the full itinerary? I haven't seen much on this site about Madikwe, and just want to make sure I'm not missing some important information about it. By the way, Judy, I particularly appreciated your comments on the topography and climate of the Karoo. I'm actually looking forward to experiencing "the stark beauty" of the semi-desert area of the Karoo along the N1, even if it's only for a few hours.

Thanks again.
mtea is offline  
Dec 19th, 2004, 08:03 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
Posts: 3,501
Hello Mtea,

About Madikwe. Sorry, I didn't intend to insult that game reserve. My comment was not meant as a criticism of Madikwe as such. I only mentioned the possibility of dropping Madikwe in the context of your overall trip. It seemed that you had sketched out a rather full itinerary for yourself, packed with places that all were wonderful, and it seemed to me that you needed to go through the somewhat painful process of weighing up the destinations, figuring out how closely they matched what you wanted to get out of the trip, and making some decisions. You now appear to have come down in favour of limiting the Garden Route to 3 days so you can fit in the Drakensberg and Madikwe, and I think that's a really valid choice.

I have never stayed at the Mount Nelson, but friends of mine have stayed there, and I've had dinner there. It's a lovely hotel, the "grand old lady" of Cape Town, so to speak. However, if you're looking for a central location (downtown or the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront), the Mountain Nelson is just a bit too far out of the way. There are a couple of boutique hotels that have cropped up in Cape Town in more recent years, and there also are some excellent guesthouses in the suburbs on the Atlantic seaboard. A couple of posters have enjoyed staying in Green Point, as it is between downtown and V&A Waterfront on the one hand and the western suburbs on the other hand. I think you should research the options before making a decision. But I'll leave the specifics to others who have more current information.

I don't quite understand your question about flying out of George versus flying out of Port Elizabeth. I gather you want to stay in Knysna or Plettenberg Bay before you go on to the Drakensberg. If I've understood your comments correctly, you seem to be underestimating the distance between Knysna / Plettenberg Bay and Port Elizabeth (300+ km, if I'm not mistaken). I think you would need to push yourself a bit and not leave much room for error if you expected that a 10.50 a.m. flight out of George and a 1.30 p.m. flight out of Port Elizabeth both required the same departure time from Knysna. When you leave Plettenberg Bay, get into the Tsitsikamma Forest and cross the Storms River Bridge, the road is quite winding. You wouldn't be able to drive all that fast. Once you leave the Tsitsikamma Forest, the rest of the road to Port Elizabeth is not all that scenic. There is a nice beach between the Tsitsikamma Forest and PE, and that is at Jeffreys Bay, but I think you'd be too rushed to be able to stop and see it.

By way of comparison, Knysna is about 70 km from George and Plettenberg Bay is about 100 km from George, I believe.

Also keep in mind that when you get to Durban you still have to collect your luggage, rent a car and drive to the Drakensberg. Cathedral Peak is about 2.5 hours from Durban. (At least I'm assuming you'll drive straight to the Drakensberg from Durban.) Although the 1.30 p.m. flight from PE is doable, I think the earlier flight from George gives you more "wiggle room," especially at the end of the day.

But the Tsitsikamma Forest is lovely, and it would be ideal if you could see the Garden Route all the way from Mossel Bay to the Storms River Bridge (and even more ideally all the way to the eastern edge of the Tsitsikamma Forest), regardless of how you accomplished that.

The main reason for going as far as PE would have been to visit Addo Elephant National Park. If you're not going to do that, some of the rationale for driving as far as PE drops off.
Judy_in_Calgary is offline  
Dec 20th, 2004, 05:37 AM
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,916
On my first trip to Cape Town, I stayed at the Mount Nelson. Its a very pleasant hotel, but I found it a little isolated -- I took taxis several times to the V&A waterfront. So on my last visit I stayed on the Waterfront (at the Victoria and Alfred Hotel -- about 1/3 the price of Cape Grace and it seemed just as nice -- I had visited both on my prior trip).

thit_cho is offline  
Dec 23rd, 2004, 06:52 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 1,097

I am going to try and answer you as quickly as possible as time is not on my side today.

1. In my opinion the Mount Nelson is a stuffy, stiff hotel that is expensive and is definitley NOT worth the money relative to so many of the wonderful other places to stay in Cape Town. Furthermore these days the service in the hotel is pretty far from what it is supposed to be. I speak of personal experiences in this regard. All I can say is that I would never place my own visitors to Cape Town in this venue. Enough said.

2. Oudtshoorn. Try and stay at Rooderandt guesthouse.

Wonderful rustic experience that truly is quite unique with hosts extraordinaire in the form of Pieter and Mallet Fourie. Only "lovely" problem is that if you go to Jemimas you will miss the dinner meal that the Fourie's serve in their wonderful dining room. Tough choice between this experience and Jemimas.

If you want a more upmarket living experience then look at Rosenhof. The only problem that I have with Rosenhof is that while staying at this venue it could result in you feeling that you were anywhere in the world and not necessarily in Oudtshoorn as it is just another quality hotel like similar places all over the globe.

La Plume is also an interesting experience if you want to stay on a farm outside of Outdshoorn. Opposite to Rosenhof you will certainly know that you are in Oudtshoorn when you stay at La Plume. Lovely venue to stay at. Clean, safe, spacious and wonderful hosts.

Whatever you do when staying in Oudtshoorn in February ensure that wherever you reside you have the facility of AIR-CONDITIONING as you will definitely need this at this time of the year.

3. When it comes to accommodation in Knysna I would suggest the tried and trusted Overmeer Guesthouse

For a more upmarket experience you could also look at Falcons View Manor

mtea, Knysna is quite a big town and no matter what you will have to drive from place to place when going out hence being in the town centre is not a total necesitty. As a matter of fact the one problem you might well come up against when staying in the town centre is noise from the people in town at night while you are trying to sleep.

4. I have read what you say about the George vs Port Elzabeth departure and I suppose if the only plane available is at 10h50 from George then you might as well travel down to PE and take the latest flight out to Durban.

Hope this all helps.

Very proudly part of the wonderful nation of South Africa
Selwyn_Davidowitz is offline  

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